On “morally neutral” technology

On “morally neutral” technology June 17, 2016

Guns, we are perpetually instructed, are “morally neutral technology”. I think the phrase “morally neutral” is too imprecise. To be sure, technology does not make moral decisions, but technology has a massive impact and influence on moral decision-makers. We know this every time the technology in question is not a gun.

So, for instance, the old saw is that “If guns kill people, do spoons make people fat?”

What this overlooks is that in cultures where technology makes food abundantly available and exercise less and less obligatory, people do tend toward gluttony and obesity. America is Exhibit A. Technology has exerted massive environmental pressure on Americans to make the decision to flop on the couch and eat cheetos while binge-watching “Game of Thrones”. Result: we are a nation of fatsos. Technology does, in fact, helps make people fat. It’s not a big public health issue on the African veldt.

Likewise, a porn magazine is a piece of technology which exerts massive and *addictive* pressure on millions of people. So is crack cocaine and a bottle of whiskey. So is the internet. They *change* us.

And so do guns. Technology opens possibilities for us to think about and do things we literally could not imagine before. No. Tech does not *make* us do it. But it helps to change us into the kind of people who can, for good or evil, do things nobody ever thought of before, whether it is this:

or this:

We need some new way of talking about technology besides “morally neutral”. Because the phrase falsely suggests that technology exerts no pressure on moral decision-makers, and that is plainly false. It exerts intense pressure on us and is changing us–constantly and rapidly.

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